Many businesses are now considering moving their business phone systems to VOIP. But VOIP phone systems are very different from the traditional phone services you are used to. Consider this:
When you buy traditional phone service from the “phone company”, they run a set of copper wires from their central office to your facility. If you need to have more than one phone call going at a time, you will need multiple pairs of copper. The phone company assigns a phone number to that line, one of a limited number that are available to that central office. (In other words, if your phone central office is in Elk City and you want an Oakville phone number, it’s a major issue and is going to cost a lot.)
Once the line(s) are wired to your office, you are pretty much on your own. You can either wire the lines to specific phones or you can wire them into some sort of very expensive PBX box that will handle such things as message storage, routing, etc. If you want special features like caller id or centrex switching, expect to pay dearly for it.
In contrast, a VOIP system is totally different. You specify a phone number that you want, which can be local to any city in the US. Instead of running a pair of copper wires to your destination with that number, calls to that number are instead routed to the VOIP company’s switch. Phones in your facility are connected to your internet connection and from there connect directly to the VOIP company switch. Since the VOIP company switch is on the internet (with a fixed IP address), your phones can be anywhere an internet connection exists, not just in a single facility.
Since an internet connection is a high bandwidth connection, more than one call can be connected without additional wiring. Hundreds of simultaneous calls can be maintained on a single internet connection. (For the technically minded, each phone call consumes about 100k of your bandwidth.)
When a call comes in on your number, the VOIP switch is programmed to answer with a pre-recorded message (which may or may not include routing choices to be selected by the caller) and then to ring to certain extensions or combination of extensions (the actual phones in your facility). The VOIP switch can also be set up to forward calls to your home phone, cell phone, anywhere.
Once the call is answered by one of the phones in your office, that phone can also perform any of a number of cammands which send signals directly back to the VOIP switch. These phones can, for example, transfer the call to another extension, conference two or more extensions, conference in an outside call, transfer a call to voice mail, etc, etc. When callers are placed on hold, the VOIP switch can play music or an advertising message of your choice.
VOIP switches also generally provide email notification of voice messages received, so that you can be aware of messages even when you are not in the office.
For outbound calling, office extensions dial any US or Canada number, in the usual format leading with 1 plus area code. This information is sent to the VOIP switch, which places the call through one of its interconnect arrangements. When the call is connected, the VOIP switch joins the extension to the call. All calls are billed at the same rate, whether they are across town or across the country. In other words, no local toll or long distance charges. VOIP service plans for businesses generally provide a fixed limit of calling minutes or unlimited domestic calling. These services may include international calling, usually at an additional cost.
Calls from one extension to another are almost always included in business service plans at no added cost, so that extensions to extension calls do not add to your bill. This presents some additional cast saving advantages should you happen to have employees in widely separated locations. For example, if you are headquartered in Los Angeles and you have a small sales office in Spokane, you can call from headquarters to sale office at no added cost. (With traditional phone service, you could expect to pay by the minute at long distance rates for every one of those calls.)
Most VOIP switches can also arrange for international dial-in numbers in such places as London, Berlin, Shanghai, Hong Kong. Anywhere where you have a significant business presence. These numbers, often a local call to the user, ring into your system just like local numbers.
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