We have a client that had some major problems with a core piece of equipment that handles all of the IP Phone and computer connectivity. It turns out that that piece of equipment is barley capable of handing IP Phones and it is recommended that it is replaced with a much more expensive model to bring back reliability in to the equation. During this process the client asked some very valid questions; why are IP phones better than what they used before, they seem to be more expensive to maintain, and why did their last technology partner upgrade them to a IP Phone system?
An IP Phone primer
The world is moving toward IP phones since the technology is very flexible and is based upon standard computer networking technologies. The one basic premise is to have one network for phones and computers rather than 2 separate networks (one for computers and one for phones). For larger or complex environments, an IP phone setup can save a lot of money compared to the traditional PBX setup, along with providing a host of additional features.
I never tell anyone to throw away their current phone system and replace it with an IP phone system unless the need is justified. Common needs are an old phone system that is failing, one that has maxed out its capacity, need additional phone features, or needing to tie together multiple offices. No doubt that IP phones, in general, can be expensive, but for many organizations it makes sense.
For clients who ask us about moving to IP phones, we do a simple ROI and needs assessment to flush out all of the costs involved and benefits to help make an informed decision. Many times this leads to keeping their current non-IP phone system since the economics to not align with the business need. Other times it makes sense, especially if the company has multiple offices and want inter-office extension calling. To complicate things further, you can buy your own phone equipment, or you can do hosted and pay a monthly fee to essentially rent a phone system and phone lines which live over the Internet.
Why toss my PBX
Not knowing the details, I would recommend that if the system was close or out of capacity (buying new cards or hardware to increase capacity can get expensive), expensive vendor management (IP phones are becoming the norm so it can be difficult finding a firm the support your old phone system), or there was a business need for some of the IP phone features.
For single office smaller environments, IP phones can be more expensive to buy and maintain than the old standard phone systems, especially if you do not need to make changes often and if you have a current working PBX in place. Most smaller organizations contemplating IP phones will go the hosted route so the only onsite equipment needed are the phones and some networking equipment. Hosting allows for a smaller up front capital expenditure, reducing the need for supporting a phone system, and giving them an enterprise class phone system with all of the corporate bells and whistles.
The upside to hosting is that the provider maintains the phone system and phone lines and there is a reduced capital expenditure on your end. The downside is that your Internet connection is the life source for your phones and if that ever fails, you have no phones (but the good thing is that callers still get your voicemail so they can leave a message).
Some benefits for IP phones are:
- Flexibility â€“ you can move a phone and plug it in to another network jack and it is still the same phone. In the old PBX world, the â€œphoneâ€� is associated with the physical jack it is plugged in to so moving a phone is a big deal comparatively speaking.
- Feature â€“ built-in or as an option to most IP phone systems is the ability to receive your voicemails and faxes within your email inbox.
- Flexibility â€“ interoffice communications become easy and free for making calls. In the PBX world, this is fairly complex and expensive to achieve otherwise you will be paying per minute to make calls to your other offices.
- Feature â€“ find me/follow me. Most IP phone systems have the ability to setup a find me or follow me feature that allows a user to program a set of numbers to try before sending the caller to voicemail (IE: call my desk first, then try my cell, then try my home, and send back to my voicemail if no answer).
- Upgrades â€“ advanced features as they become available are just a software update.
- Hosting â€“ with IP phones you can have someone else maintain the phone equipment and you rent the service rather than buy equipment and maintain it.
- Cost â€“ You can save a lot of money on your telecommunications costs using an IP phone system depending on your needs.
- Future â€“ IP phones are the future so at some point, this will be the main and primary phone technology.
- Support â€“ you may find it difficult finding support for an aging PBX system.
- One network â€“ no need to wire and maintain multiple disparate networks to create a phone and a data network when IP phones can leverage the existing data infrastructure.
- Softphone â€“ for most IP phone systems, you can install a software version of a phone to use on a laptop for traveling or at your home office. A simple computer USB headset allows for very good and fully functional phone calling just like you were at the office (same caller ID, same extension, etc.)
Doing a forklift upgrade to install an IP phone system is not the best option for many organizations, but it could make a lot of sense for many other organizations. To make it easy, just start with doing the math to see if the economics align with the business goal. From there you can find a technology partner to help guide you through the process and implement the best technology for your business.