At this point, we can all agree that the way we do business changed in 2020. An extended period of remote work showed employers and employees that a more flexible work schedule is possible, and many business leaders are now looking at making WFH a permanent option.
If you’re considering adding in permanent remote work capabilities at your organization, one of the first things you’ll want to consider is VoIP. If you’re wondering “What is VoIP?”, this article will help.
TL;DR: VoIP is a way to make phone calls over the internet instead of a phone line, which makes it much more affordable and flexible to use for business phone lines. VoIP calling and regular phone calling feel the same, except that VoIP calls can be made from your laptop, tablet, cell phone, or desk handset phone – whichever is best for you. Contact Interplay to Learn More.
Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, is when you use the internet to make a phone call, instead of a regular landline. Remember those ubiquitous Vonage commercials from the early 2000s? They were offering VoIP. (Warning: the song from that link will get stuck in your head.)
The great thing about VoIP, and the reason why it’s so useful in a WFH world, is that it separates the location from the phone line. With VoIP, you can use the same number to make or receive calls on your cell phone, your computer, or a regular phone handset… and whether you’re calling from Paris, France or Paris, Texas, you and your employees can still call from and be reached at your office’s phone number.
Okay, we get that this doesn’t sound like a revolutionary concept in our age of smartphones — and when you use a VoIP phone it doesn’t feel like a revolutionary concept (it feels like a phone) — but this whole VoIP deal is actually pretty amazing when you know how it works.
Okay, we know you really want to know the answer to “What is VoIP,” but we’re geeky about technology and get pretty darn excited about small things – and this is actually really cool. Stick with us for a moment for a brief history lesson…
Back in the 60s, America was worried about a nuclear attack from the Soviets and needed a reliable communication system that could outlast such a terrible occurrence. The regular phone system, referred to as POTS (Plain Old Telephone System – we’re serious!), used dedicated phone lines to connect callers. If the lines were damaged by a nuclear bomb, fast communication would be impossible.
The phone line system ran on a process called “circuit-switching” (and still does), which devoted a dedicated open circuit / phone line to a phone call. Remember the old movie footage where operators plugged cables into different plugs? That was them switching the circuits to connect you with the person you wanted to call. (Today’s circuit-switching calls use automation instead of operators, but it’s a very similar process.)
<embed circuit-switching footage: https://youtu.be/aXeZYtYabtI?t=20>
To overcome the problem of phone calls stopped dead by damaged circuits, computer wizards invented a process called “packet-switching,” which compressed bits of audio into little packets, much like digital envelopes, and sent them to the proper destination (e.g. the person you’re calling). The trick to this was that the packets were programmed to autonomously overcome obstacles to deliver the audio. You can think of this sort of like that old Plinko game on The Price Is Right, where a little token makes its way to the bottom of the Plinko board, often creating surprising pathways to do so.
Of course, in Plinko, the token didn’t always end up where the contestants wanted it to go, whereas in packet-switching, the “token” (the packet) always ends up where it’s supposed to go, it just chooses its own path to get there.
<embed Plinko video: https://youtu.be/xw5ErADiuec?t=373>
The benefit to this system is that it enabled communications to reach their destinations even if phone lines were down. The drawback to this system is that it was a tad ahead of its time and crashing computers made it hard to send packets reliably.
Nevertheless, packet-switching persisted (like many great societal impacts), and it became a lot better and more useful with time.
Now that you have this history lesson under your belt, we can fast forward to today’s VoIP systems and you’ll understand what we’re talking about when we say:
VoIP works on the concept of packet-switching. It sends small packets of digital information like audio, video, or text, across a self-navigated pathway of internet connections to reach its destination.
In other words, it’s a really reliable method of making a phone call, and it was built to withstand a nuclear bomb.
(Disclaimer: If a nuclear bomb actually went off it would probably knock out power, which would knock out your internet connection because you need a powered-on router to be able to access the internet and make calls over the internet. But really, if a nuclear bomb went off, you’d have bigger worries than wondering how to make calls to your clients.)
Because VoIP flexibly makes your office phone numbers useable anywhere in the world with extremely low costs, VoIP has become a great business tool in our new WFH environment. That’s why a lot of organizations are already using it – and everyone else is asking, “What is VoIP?”
In fact, Microsoft Teams is a cloud-based VoIP solution that can be extended as a UCaaS solution to work with normal telephone lines, faxes, emails, voicemail, video conferencing, chat, text, and other communications mediums. Basic Teams with VoIP is included in Microsoft 365 subscriptions, so you probably already have Teams. VoIP is just Teams with a dedicated phone number, and it’s available for regular “hard phones” too (normal desk phones).
If you’re already running Teams or Microsoft 365 and you’d like to save on the costs and hassle of in-office PBX systems, the flexibility of VoIP may be the right answer for you.
For 20 years, the friendly and knowledgeable IT team at Interplay has helped business leaders across a range of industries get more out of their tech, stress free. Not only are we always (and we mean always) happy to offer the best managed IT services, support, and advice, we’re also the team you can trust for the best cocktail recommendations here in Seattle or in Disney World – we’re versatile! All humor aside though, we’d love to help you get your IT running smoothly and securely, around the clock.