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Meet VoIP: introducing telephone's new look.

How It Works

Reached out and touched someone though Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) lately? Though still in the starting-up phase, VoIP, many telecom experts agree, will soon claim more and more of the business telecommunications market. Nationally, VoIP systems are being installed in businesses at about the same rate as other systems.

Some common terms used in a discussion about VoIP:

POTS Plain Old Telephone System. Enough said. Why, do you suppose, they needed an acronym for THAT?

VOIP Voice over Internet Protocol. This is the capability to carry normal telephone-style voice communications over an IP-based network with POTS-like functionality, reliability, and voice quality. VoIP enables a router to carry voice traffic (for example, telephone calls and faxes) over an IP network. In VoIP, the digital signal processor (DSP) segments the voice signal into "frames," which then are coupled in groups of two and stored in voice packets. These voice packets are transported over the network.

CODEC: Coder-decoder. This is a DSP software algorithm used to compress/decompress speech or audio signals.

Since VoIP is built to operate over typical Local Area Networks (LANs) to go all the way to your desktop, it may be useful to think of VoIP as more of an application of your company's computer network than as a service you purchase from a provider such as the phone company. VoIP protocols have evolved with this model in mind, and are continually adding features to the telephone service from the world of computer networks.

Rather than using two telephones and a normal (or POTS) line like the one at your home, VoIP runs off a network. A system that is always operating in the background makes it possible for you to surf the Web, or use other network applications, while you are having a conversation on the same digital connection.

We called Kendall Brinkerhoff of ViaWest to explain the system. ViaWest leases VoIP to customers that share office space with ViaWest in the Canopy Campus in Lindon. Brinkerhoff feels that VoIP has many advantages over POTS, starting with cost.

"Because it's network based, that means that once you paid your installation costs, then there is no permanent charge like there would be with a traditional phone line, as long as you are keeping it inside your network," he says.

For example, ViaWest has these same phones in their Salt Lake facility and so the Lindon office can dial Salt Lake through an extension, rather than dial a long distance number, Likewise, Lindon can dial any number up there in the Salt Lake Valley and it would be a local call, and vise-versa, of course. "As long as you are inter-networked, and your phone knows where to find the server to get information, you can get up and running," Brinkerhoff says.

ViaWest can connect other businesses on the campus to their VoIP network simply by extending their fiber line. Bill Brooks, at Learning Optics, is one of ViaWest's VoIP customers. According to Brooks, the advantage of VoIP for the small business isn't necessarily savings.

"Since we're a smaller company and find ourselves moving people around quite a bit, with VoIP we can take a phone and plug it in anywhere in the office, and maintain that phone number," Brooks says. "So, our office is very configurable. The phones themselves are more expensive, but we get lots of features bundled into that cost. It's very easy to add people to groups. It's very flexible."

Brooks believes that the deployment of VoIP technology will continue to expand. "I definitely see it growing in popularity, because of the flexibility if offers to the small business. We don't have people sitting in the same cubicle for 10 years."

Brooks did point out one problem with introducing VoIP to his small business. A good share of Learning Optics' telecommunication equipment, such as fax machines, conference phones and modems, were analog, and the VoIP system can't interface with analog lines. There's a relatively simple solution to this problem, but it involves buying an analog-to-digital converter that is compatible with the VoIP system.

Nationally, because VoIP systems are being installed in businesses at a similar rate as other systems Brinkerhoff believes it eventually will take over the business telephone market. Construction of new office space is taking this system into account, and many new projects are building VoIP system lines into new offices.

He cites as further evidence of the anticipated popularity of VoIP the existence of companies that can deliver these fiber lines to people's homes. Eventually, providers will come forward to offer VoIP as a residential service.

So, the flexibility and the added network features make VoIP a good choice for the small business that can afford the initial cost of the equipment. Just imagine your phone being able to do anything your PC can do now--and even more than that in the future.

"One new feature that VoIP offers that is becoming popular is video," Brinkerhoff says. "So, as I am talking to you--if you have one of these phones--we could actually see each other while we're talking."

He paused a moment, as if to look around his office. "But I'm not sure that's a good thing ..."

Guy Lebeda works at the Utah Arts Council and is a freelance writer.
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Title Annotation:smallbusinessadvisor
Author:Lebeda, Guy
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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