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On "Voice Over IP"

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a general term for a family of transmission technologies for delivery of voice communications over IP  or Internet Protocol.  This does not mean that all your calls are going through the internet, it only means that internet technology is being used to transmit the voice itself.

In more layman’s terms, it’s taking your voice, breaking it up in ordered little pieces, then sending it through the same highway that your internet and data traffic goes through.  At the phone system level, this is typically restricted to your internal data network or LAN (Local Area Network).  If your computer is connected with a cable for its Internet Connection and/or data connectivity within your office, imagine plugging a phone into that same outlet and being able to talk to other extensions in your system, making outbound calls, etc.

VoIP is very simply a different method of transport of voice, bundling it with your internet/data traffic versus living on its own separate network as has been traditional.

This is the big misunderstanding about VoIP.  Many believe that by virtue of using this technology, your calls will be free and you’ll have a fixed monthly rate for all of your business calls, etc.

Although this is true for many Hosted PBX systems (like the Mitel MiCloud series) and some residential based services (Vonage, etc.), it is not necessarily as widely accepted for business users.  The reason why is because in order to get “flat rate” services with VoIP, you’ll need to use your internet connection for all of your calls with the outside world.

Isn’t that what VoIP is all about you ask?  Well not exactly.  The vast majority of VoIP implementations for business use the technology for internal and inter-office calls only while retaining traditional analog and or digital connections to the phone company.  This has to do mostly with quality, which is the topic of the next question.  This is a changing environment.  We’re seeing more and more businesses accepting having all of their communications funnel via one or more internet connections versus traditional digital and analog facilities.

Since your voice is being funneled through the same conduit as data is from computers for the internet and internal communications, etc., it is imperative to make sure that the two don’t collide or get mixed in with each other beyond the capabilities of your Local Area Network systems, especially if the data portion of the information being transmitted is consuming a lot of the bandwidth available, problems can occur.  These problems manifest themselves as voice that sounds as if it’s underwater, clipping, missed portions of the conversation or outright disconnects in the most severe cases.  Voice is a real-time application and its contents are not meant to be repeated by the systems, whereas data can be repeated until it reaches the other side, even if with a small time delay.

So how do we ensure this doesn’t happen?  Depending on the need, we can separate the two logically within the same stream of information.  Each application (voice vs. data) is given a priority, with voice being the highest.  Imagine a highway that’s normally shared by voice and data.  By prioritizing the voice, we are giving it its own carpool lane, allowing it to free flow to its destination without worrying about any congestion.

Depending on what compression methods (squeezes the voice in smaller pieces) are used to help the voice get from point A to point B effectively, you will realize quality differences.  The more the voice is compressed, the worse it sounds.  Typical compressions used to transmit voice over the internet for example sound like a decent cell phone conversation.  Otherwise, transmissions of VoIP within private networks usually are not compressed and therefore sound just like your analog telephone, loud and clear!

One of the most commonly asked questions related to reliability is if the internet goes down, will my phones still work?  Or, if the servers go down does my IP phone system stop working?

These are tricky questions in that they involve elements that may be used in an IP phone system.  For example, if I’m using my internet exclusively to make and take calls from the outside world and it goes down then yes, you will no longer be able to call outside phone numbers or receive calls from the outside.  However if I’ve built in line redundancies I may have alternate routes to make those calls.  This is why it’s rare to see companies using the internet exclusively (with what are called “SIP trunks”) for their connectivity.  It is much more typical to see digital circuits (T1, PRI) or even good ol’ POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) as the connection of choice.  Granted, times are changing and we’re seeing these SIP trunks being adopted more and more as time goes on, for the simple fact that they are less expensive on average than traditional connectivity methods.

PC servers for email, databases, internet services, etc., are very unlikely to take down your VoIP phone system should they decide to stop working.  Only related applications may stop working.

All in all, IP systems are very reliable, and in some cases more so that predecessors.  All of the systems AmeriTel carries are rated at a 99.999% up-time.  With the addition of redundant power supplies and hard drives for critical solutions, you’re set for a nearly fail-proof system.

SIP Trunks are a specific voice service provided typically by the carrier (Telepacific, Paetec, AT&T, Verizon, etc.) that utilizes your existing Internet connection (T1, DSL, etc.) for transport.  So instead of traditional digital or analog resources to connect to the outside world, the SIP protocol leverages internet technology to accomplish the same, but generally at a lower initial and recurring cost and with greater flexibility plus in some cases, better features.

VoIP impacts all business facets because of the advancement of new specialized applications for business that were not possible or available with traditional PBX systems.

The way to realize efficiencies with new VoIP based technologies is to adopt, implement and integrate them into your everyday business processes.  If used merely as a gadget, you won’t realize its full potential.  So it really comes down to your users and having them use the tools that these new systems offer.

Unified Communications or “UC” is at the forefront, taking in multiple forms of communications and bringing them together in seamless fashion through PC applications that marries your deskphone, mobile phone, any phone!, email, video, chat, web, etc.  It’s taking availability of your workers to a new level and making it possible to communicate with immediacy despite geographic location or method.  All this through your “phone system”.

Of course Mobility is a hot topic that is an integral part of UC.  Being able to give out a single phone number to your customers, co-workers, etc. and have them reach you no matter what device you are using and no matter where you are.  It’s the ability to switch between these devices and continue your conversation as if nothing.

Any company taking calls from customers has a Contact Center, whether formalized or not.  There are advanced applications through Automatic Call Distribution that provide for an orderly flow of calls to your customer care (or sales, technical support, etc.) representatives and present information to them about the caller to give the client the best possible experience when calling you, translating into customer loyalty.

These are only some examples of the many applications VoIP systems can deliver to any business.  Don’t miss the opportunity to chat with an AmeriTel representative or call us anytime to discuss your specific needs.

On Applications:

Unified communications (UC) is the integration of real-time communication services such as instant messaging (chat), presence information, telephony (including IP telephony), video conferencing, data sharing (including web connected electronic whiteboards aka IWB’s or Interactive White Boards), call control and speech recognition with non-real-time communication services such as unified messaging (integrated voicemail, e-mail, SMS and fax). UC is not necessarily a single product, but a set of products that provides a consistent unified user interface and user experience across multiple devices and media types. There have been attempts at creating a single product solution however the most popular solution is dependent on multiple products.

In its broadest sense UC can encompass all forms of communications that are exchanged via the medium of the TCP/IP network to include other forms of communications such as Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) and Digital Signage Communications as they become an integrated part of the network communications deployment and may be directed as one to one communications or broadcast communications from one to many.

UC allows an individual to send a message on one medium and receive the same communication on another medium. For example, one can receive a voicemail message and choose to access it through e-mail or a cell phone. If the sender is online according to the presence information and currently accepts calls, the response can be sent immediately through text chat or video call. Otherwise, it may be sent as a non-real-time message that can be accessed through a variety of media.

On Telephone Systems:

A Telephone System, plain and simply, provides connectivity between phones in an office and allows them to share the resources (such as lines) to the outside world.  There is no rule as to a telephone system’s size.  We have installations with as few as two telephones and as many as thousands!  The point here is functionality and the need for more sophisticated applications.  Talk to us about your needs and we will help you make the best decision for your business.

Definitions and naming conventions can be very confusing in the telecom world.  You’ll hear us talk about lines or extension or C.O. Lines, POTS lines, phone line, etc.  Many terms are the same and some are very different.  Generally speaking, an “extension” is a phone living on a phone system with its own extension number (i.e. x100).  A “line” may be referred to the physical cable (comprised of a “pair” of cables) running in the wall to this phone for example, or can also be a phone number such as (818) 555-1212 (C.O. line discussed next).

So Line 1 has a different number than Line 2 on a plain telephone system for example.  A “C.O. Line” is a “Central Office Line”, which is a service from the phone company, whereas this line has its own phone number as mentioned prior (also, “POTS” line is the same, acronym for “Plain Old Telephone Service”).  This line plugs into the telephone system and can then be shared by all of the “extensions” connected to it.  So, imagine having 10 “lines” but 20 “extensions”.  This means that all 20 phones can access all 10 lines (unless restricted to do so by the phone system programming) for outbound or inbound calls from the outside world.  The ratio lines to extensions is strictly based on the needs of every business, and is not a 1 to 1 ratio.  The phone system acts as a traffic cop that directs lines to ring in specific places, to specific extensions, etc.  At home, you tipically have one line, but several phones.

Since there’s typically no phone system at your house, the line is physically shared by all the phones via the cable in the wall (unless they are all wireless).  The traditional phone number coming into your house from AT&T for example is the same as a POTS line.  These days, conventions are even further blurred by the addition of Internet based telephone services for home and business.  In the business world, they are called SIP Trunks.

A T1 is a digital service (as opposed to analog service such as POTS lines) provided by the phone company that allows a phone system to process up to 24 calls at once (combination of inbound and outbound calls).  So instead or in addition to POTS lines (see question above), you can provision a T1 circuit which then allows for a high volume of calls on only 4 wires (2 pairs).  One of the many benefits of a T1 is cost savings for usage. Normally, usage on a T1 is classified as “dedicated” (versus “switched” for POTS lines) which can be dramatically less expensive per minute.  Another service of a T1 is called DID or “Direct Inward Dial” service, whereas I can own a bank of phone numbers (for example (818) 555-1000 through (818) 555-1099) and direct these phone numbers to ring anywhere I want within my phone system.  This is generally how companies have extensions with direct phone numbers (that ring directly at someone’s desk).

T1’s are more efficient, offer more functionality and in most cases, more economical than having a bunch of analog POTS lines.  T1’s can also be referred to as “SuperTrunks” (just a T1 with some added features) or PRI (Primary Rate ISDN, adds Caller-ID as a feature and dedicates one of the 24 channels to signaling between the phone system and the phone company thus even more efficient.)  In some cases, the T1’s channels are divided into two groups, one for voice services and one for data transmission.

T1s are an all purpose digital circuit that can be deployed in several flavors and configurations to provide enhanced voice and data services.

On Surveillance/CCTV Systems:

Need an extra set of eyes in your store or office? If the answer is yes, you may want to install a CCTV system. CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) refers to a system of surveillance cameras that send signals to a specific location-a monitor, or your PC.  CCTV systems are commonly used to monitor banks, shopping malls, and government facilities-and these days, as CCTV technology becomes more affordable and easier to use, more and more people are installing CCTV cameras in their homes and businesses.

There are many different types of CCTV systems available – analog, digital and now IP, wired and wireless – and their modes of operation vary; however, the basic components are more or less the same: a camera, a lens, a monitor, and (for wired systems) cables that carry the signal from one place to another.

Many systems also use video recorders to record the video footage. The camera picks up the signal from the area being monitored via the lens (which determines how far and how much the camera can see, and which is often bought separately) and can be either wired or wireless.

In a wired system, the camera sends the signals through a coaxial cable to the monitor; The monitor can be either a simple television set (without tuning capacity) or your PC or laptop. Most wired analog systems use television monitors, while digital and wireless systems tend to use computers as monitors (so you can view the images from anywhere, often via the internet).

For recording purposes, the monitor is accompanied by a video recorder-a DVR (digital video recorder) for digital systems. A DVR can actually replace the monitor as the receiving device, since many DVRs are stand-alone units that do everything a computer would do: receive, record, and store the information for later viewing.

A DVR is a Digital Video Recorder whereas you typically have analog or digital cameras connected to it for monitoring, recording and playback.  An NVR or “Networked Video Recorder” adds the capability of IP Cameras, whereas the cameras transmit their images over a data network (much like IP phones do) versus CCTV coax cable.

Camera and lens quality can vary greatly from one manufacturer to the next.  How well they perform is based on specs and placement.  Lighting conditions are critical to a proper image that will yield the results you expect.  Correct placement of a camera is equally important to lighting.  Light glare can take a $1000 camera and render it useless!  Proper night monitoring and recording and based on the same factors, lighting being the most important.  Surely, you can rely on Infrared as well to spot in the dark, however the image quality decreases dramatically.

DVRs and NVRs are Hard Drive based storage units, so the larger the hard drive the more you can store.  Recording settings also greatly affect the capacity of storage.  Recording video at 8 frames per second (or fps) versus 15 fps literally doubles your storage capacity.  At 8 fps, you’re still likely to see the amount of detail you need unless you’re a casino!  Similarly, resolution of the image affects storage, much like your digital camera does.  The higher the resolution, the more it takes to store it.  Permanent storage can be had via DVDs or transfering all video to offline hard drives.  Let your CCTV experts at AmeriTel give you an accurate storage calculation for the number of cameras you need.

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