VoIP 101

A business professional uses a business VoIP solution in Minneapolis, MN
A business professional uses a business VoIP solution in Minneapolis, MN

VoIP 101

You see it in business articles and advertisements everywhere – VoIP. But what is it? VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. Put simply, VoIP is a technology to send voice calls over the internet, similar to how computers send and receive files over the internet.

In order to understand the capabilities of VoIP, it’s helpful to know a bit about how it works. Essentially, the audio of a phone call gets digitized into data “packets” by microprocessors that are built in to IP telephones and other VoIP-supporting devices. These data packets are then transmitted real-time over your Local Area Network (LAN), across your Wide Area Network (WAN) connection, to your carrier, and finally to your caller.

These simple network maps illustrate the difference between a traditional configuration and one using VoIP.

Network Map showing Business Phone and Data in a Traditional vs. VoIP Implementation
Why is VoIP popular?

There are a number of reasons that businesses are moving to Voice over IP solutions.  VoIP allows computers and phones to use the same LAN cabling in your office, which greatly reduces the costs involved in maintaining separate voice and data networks.  Also, due to its internet-based nature, VoIP opens the door to a host of productivity features that tie together phone calls, Instant Messaging, faxes and voicemail, even video conferencing.  Collectively, these features are commonly referred to as Unified Communications.

Some people may still think that VoIP is synonymous with poor reliability and voice quality. This is likely due to past experiences with poorly executed VoIP implementations. Early on, companies were offered VoIP with the promise of cutting costs.  And while the result was often cheaper, poor implementations also resulted in poor audio quality and dropped calls, which translated to lost productivity and tarnished image. As with any new technology, VoIP had its growing pains.

Voice over IP is now a mature and proven technology that works much better given today’s improvements in internet bandwidth.  VoIP is absolutely capable of delivering excellent reliability and voice quality, so long as the proper measures are put in place. Since VoIP calls will travel over both your LAN and WAN, let’s take a closer look at reliability and voice quality through the lens of both of these segments:

  • Your LAN
    • Reliability.  Your LAN connects all of the computers, printers, IP phones, and mobile devices in your office, using either a wired or wireless (WiFi) connection.  Therefore, the equipment that comprises your LAN – including cabling, Ethernet switches, firewalls, and wireless access points – all must be properly configured and of sufficient quality.  Furthermore, many of today’s business-grade firewalls can be configured to support automatic failover when using a dual connection configuration, a high-reliability solution we’ll discuss more in a moment.
    • Voice Quality.    As we saw in the illustration above, the VoIP packets must compete against other data packets that may be trying to come or go over your LAN and WAN at the same time; packets such as large file downloads, cloud application usage, and streaming video.  Any delays in when those VoIP packets arrive at their destination will result in degraded audio.  However, your LAN can be made to prioritize which packets may use your WAN connection first, by way of a network setting known as Quality of Service (QoS).  QoS is configurable in many modern firewalls and managed Ethernet switches, and full service providers may even offer installation and configuration of such devices to support their VoIP solutions.
  • Your WAN
    • Reliability.  The WAN connection is responsible for transmitting VoIP calls from the LAN to the VoIP carrier.  Since VoIP allows for both internet and voice traffic to use the same WAN connection, many providers recommend a single connection configuration.  While a single WAN connection may seem tempting as a cost reducing measure, this configuration is a step backwards in reliability.  If that one connection has an issue, both internet and voice are affected!  You’ll need to carefully consider options to reduce that risk, such as a dual WAN connection configuration with automatic failover.  Ideally, the connections would be provided by different carriers for the added benefit of diversity.  This setup utilizes two different WAN connections connected to a firewall that is configured to realize when one connection fails and automatically shift traffic to the other carrier’s connection.  Sound complex?  Don’t worry – a full service VoIP provider will be able to take care of this for you.
    • Voice Quality.  There is a wide range of internet connections available today, varying in bandwidth, reliability, and price.  Refer to our Internet Connection Comparison Chart to compare some of the most popular connections and see which are suitable for VoIP.  And although it is important to ensure that your WAN connection has the bandwidth it will need to transport your voice and data traffic, VoIP calls actually use a surprisingly small amount of bandwidth.  Be sure to check out our article, ‘What’s In Your Internet Pipe?’ for more insights before you spend money increasing your bandwidth.  You may find that you are already paying for much more bandwidth than you could ever use!
A professional using a smartphone app connected to a business VoIP solution in St. Paul, MN
Bottom Line

Voice over IP represents the cornerstone of Unified Communications and the future of internet and telecommunications, however there are important considerations to be made before implementing it. The ideal VoIP configuration to experience all of the benefits and limit risk is automatic failover between two connections from different carriers. Not all VoIP carriers will be able to provide a hybrid implementation like this, but now you have the knowledge needed to ask the right questions before you make a decision.

POPP is proud to provide business VoIP services with Automatic Failover configurations – including SIP Trunks, PRI, and land lines – to small and medium-sized businesses in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN. For more information on Voice over IP and how it can help your business lower its communications costs while increasing productivity, please contact us with the form below.  Thank you!

    Slow Internet? Why it Will Never Go Away

    A Snail on a Keyboard - Slow Internet!
    A Snail on a Keyboard - Slow Internet!

    Slow Internet?   Why it Will Never Go Away​

    It’s one of life’s aggravating moments – waiting for a slow web page to load as you watch your browser’s progress bar crawl across the screen at a snail’s pace. You think to yourself, “if only I had more bandwidth, this wouldn’t happen”.

    Everyone has had experiences with slow internet, but do you know what can cause them?

    Slow internet does not always mean you need to buy more bandwidth, although that’s often a simple explanation that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) default to so they can charge you more. In reality, your internet connection’s bandwidth is only one of many factors that can cause a momentary or prolonged slowdown in internet speed.

    What Causes Slow Internet?

    Every time you access something on the internet, a signal is sent from your device, over your Local Area Network (LAN), across your internet connection to your ISP’s equipment, through a network of servers and switches broadly referred to as “the internet”, where it is handed off to the content provider’s ISP, and finally to the content provider’s servers where the information (voice/video/data) you were trying to access resides. Amazingly, when everything is working smoothly, all of this happens within milliseconds.

    Here are ten points along your internet path – an issue with any one of which will cause a slow internet experience:

    Illustration of 10 items that could cause Slow Internet
    Your Local Area Network (LAN)
    • Too many programs running
    • Infected with malware
    • Inefficient or improper configurations
    • Not enough processor/memory resources
    • Damaged cable or jacks
    • Loose or faulty connections
    • Inefficient or improper configuration
    • Not enough processor resources
    • Inefficient or improper configuration
    • Inadequate processor/memory resources
    • Overly aggressive antivirus settings
    • Inefficient or improper configuration
    • Inadequate processor/memory resources
    The Public Internet
    • Not enough bandwidth
    • Errors on copper, cable or fiber loops
    • Unreliable connections
    • ISP’s processor overloads
    • ISP’s overly aggressive Virus/SPAM filtering servers
    • ISP’s other customers consuming large amounts of bandwidth
    • Processor overloads
    • Congested paths
    • Data packet paths can vary based on time of day
    • Content filtering servers overloaded
    • Content customers spiking bandwidth
    Content Host's Server
    • Processors, operating system or application overload
    • Configuration not efficient

    If you would like to learn more, please contact us using the form below, or call us at 763-797-7900!

      5 Questions to Help You buy Internet with Confidence

      5 Questions to Help You Buy Internet with Confidence​

      Your business internet connection serves as your front door to the world, connecting you with your customers and suppliers. Therefore, selecting the right connection from the right provider is critically important, and yet most businesses don’t have access to all of the information necessary to make a confident decision.

      Here are 5 questions to help you select the right internet connection for your business:

      Available internet connections vary by location and by provider.  Typically, you’d have to contact each provider to find out what connections they offer at your location, and then attempt to compare the very different options to come to a conclusion.  An alternative would be to find a provider that works with all the large carriers in town, who can tell you which connections are available at your location, saving you the time of having to contact each provider individually.

      Internet connections can range in price from as low as $70 per month to over $2,000 per month!  While it may be tempting to choose the cheapest option, there are a number of factors to consider.  Connection prices reflect not only bandwidth, but also reliability, repair timeframes, and service level agreements.  We’ll share how each of the connections available to you are different, so that you can make an informed, confident decision.

      Today, many providers push higher bandwidth connections than necessary (as they generally deliver a higher profit margin), therefore understanding your actual business usage is critical to avoid paying for more than you really need. If your business internet use consists of regularly uploading and downloading large files, your internet needs are going to be significantly different than a business whose primary uses are sending or receiving email and using cloud based applications (i.e., Salesforce.com, Microsoft SharePoint, etc.).  Companies are frequently surprised at how little bandwidth they actually need when compared to the bandwidth speeds they often hear advertised. We can help make sure that the bandwidth you purchase is right-sized to your actual needs.

      Does your business use Voice over IP (VoIP) technology for making phone calls, or are you considering moving to VoIP in the future?  If so, your internet connection becomes even more important. A connection without enough bandwidth to carry your phone calls or without Quality of Service measures in place will result in poor voice quality and dropped calls. Unreliable connections will leave you without phone service altogether until the connection is restored.  We can help select a VoIP-ready connection at your address, or help to determine if VoIP is right for your business.

      Some businesses rely on their internet connections more than others. Different configuration options are available to minimize risk of downtime for your business. Matching your configuration to your acceptable risk level is important.

      High Risk | Internet & Voice on One Connection
      This low cost option provides a single, shared connection for your internet and voice. This option is a suitable choice when only one connection is available at your location, or when internet and voice are not mission critical. It’s important to note that if this internet connection is interrupted, you will not have internet or voice service until the connection is restored.

      Moderate Risk | Separate Internet & Voice – Two Connections
      One connection is used for internet, while a second connection is used for voice, ideally these connections would come from two different providers. With separate voice and internet connections, a service interruption would affect one, but typically not both connections at the same time. Business operations can continue at least in part.

      Low Risk | Two Internet Connections with Automatic Failover (AFO)
      When a constant connection with customers and cloud applications is critical, be prepared with a backup plan for your voice and internet services. This custom configuration uses two internet connections that serve as backup for each other. The first connection is primarily used for internet and the second connection is primarily used for voice; however, if one connection fails, the internet or voice traffic it was carrying will automatically move over to the surviving connection until service is restored.

      For years, POPP has been helping businesses make confident decisions by simplifying complex information and providing objective advice. We are passionate about helping businesses get the best value in business communications services. Use the contact form below to connect with a POPP representative for a free consultation. We look forward to serving you!

        How to do Business When an Internet Connection Fails

        A business person wishing they had POPP automatic failover of voice and internet
        A business person wishing they had POPP automatic failover of voice and internet

        How to do Business When an Internet Connection Fails

        How do you do business when an internet connection fails? By using your other internet connection of course! When we ask our clients how vital a reliable internet connection is to their business, the answer is usually somewhere between “important” and “absolutely critical”.

        The simple truth is that without an internet connection, most businesses would be OUT of business.

        When you consider the move of so many business applications to the cloud and the increasing popularity of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) for phone calls, it’s not hard to understand why. And yet, we find that very few business professionals consider the cost of internet downtime when selecting a connection, nor do they fully understand the options available to help insure against downtime.

        Many business owners report that their employees cannot perform their jobs at all during an internet outage.  In order to calculate the cost of internet downtime, let’s say the average cost of an employee (hourly wage + benefits + all other overhead expenses) is $60 per hour.  That equates to $1 per minute per employee, which is likely on the low end.  Next, let’s imagine that your business internet connection is down for 2 hours, and you have 20 employees who cannot work.  The total cost of this outage is $2,400.

        A simple illustration showing the business cost of internet downtime

        This substantial yet realistic cost doesn’t even factor in lost sales and diminished confidence from customers and prospects.

        Simply replacing your current internet connection with the most reliable connection available is not the end of the conversation though.  Even a high-reliability connection from an Internet Service Provider (ISP) boasting a 99.99% up-time still allows for approximately 53 minutes of downtime per year.  So…what if your business used two internet connections in order to diversify?

        The concept of a dual internet connection configuration is a recent one, spurred by the migration to the cloud of critical business services like Office 365, Salesforce, etc.  The simple illustration below shows the dual internet connections that your office Local Area Network (LAN) can use to get to the internet, supposing that one connection suffers an outage:

        A simple network map illustration of how POPP Automatic Failover of voice and internet between two connections keeps your business online in the event of an outage

        When connected to a firewall configured for automatic failover, when one connection fails, traffic simply re-routes through the surviving connection until the trouble is resolved.  In an ideal dual connection configuration, each connection would be provided by different ISPs so an issue with one ISP or the other won’t stop your business operations.  The second connection acts as an insurance policy against lost productivity, and this is the rare type of policy that will pay for itself quickly.

        For more information, use the form below to contact one of our Communications Technologists today, or call us at 763-797-7900!

        5 Reasons to Use Call Recording

        A business professional replaying a recorded call over a telephone headset.
        A business professional replaying a recorded call over a telephone headset.

        5 Reasons to Use Call Recording

        Just as professional sports players review game footage in order to improve, business professionals listen to their calls in order to increase the effectiveness of their communications.

        When you listen to your calls, you can identify speech patterns to improve, filler words to omit, and ways to better handle client questions or objections. Even basics like volume, enunciation and pace will impact the customer’s experience while speaking with you on a phone call.


        Let’s explore 5 reasons why you should consider adding call recording to your business phone system:

        By recording calls, your team no longer needs to rely solely on their notes – or worse their memory – of what was said on a phone call with a customer. A team member can simply play back the call to ensure that they have all of the details correct. This takes less time than calling the customer back, and creates a more professional image as well. Some solutions can even record calls made from smartphones and computers using the system’s softphone apps, which is helpful when your team is working remotely.

        Just as professional sports players review game footage in order to improve, business professionals listen to their calls in order to increase the effectiveness of their communications.

        When you listen to your calls, you can identify speech patterns to improve, filler words to omit, and ways to better handle client questions or objections. Even basics like volume, enunciation and pace will impact the customer’s experience while speaking with you on a phone call.

        Many industries are required to record their business calls in order to comply with regulatory requirements, such as HIPPA, Sarbanes-Oxley, and others.  If your business operates in one such industry, the importance of a dependable recording solution cannot be overstated.

        Unfortunately, an occasional dispute with a customer or vendor is an unavoidable reality of doing business. When your business calls are recorded, you no longer have to rely on “he-said, she-said” information – you can simply play back the conversation to determine exactly who said what.

        In the event an issue escalates, having call recordings on file is priceless should a court case be involved. Oftentimes, the presence of a recording allows for a resolution to be reached before legal proceedings are required.

        No matter your industry, your business can be improved with a call recording solution.  POPP is a business call recording service provider – for more information, or for a no-obligation consultation, contact us today!

          Cloud VoIP Phone Systems 101

          Cloud Hosted Phone System users with Unified Communications apps on their smartphones
          Cloud Hosted Phone System users with Unified Communications apps on their smartphones

          Cloud VoIP Phone Systems 101​

          You’ve probably heard at least one or more of these telecommunications industry buzzwords lately: Hosted VoIP, Virtual PBX, Cloud-Hosted Phone System, or Business VoIP. Business communication providers seem to be using these terms interchangeably to refer to the same thing. For accuracy, we’ll call it a cloud VoIP phone system. So, what exactly is a cloud VoIP phone system? A cloud VoIP phone system is a business phone system that uses Voice over IP (VoIP) technology, whose processor or “brain” resides on the provider’s server “in the cloud” rather than in your office’s phone and data room.

          A picture is worth 1,000 words, so before we go any further, let’s take a quick look at a simple illustration of how a cloud VoIP phone system differs from a traditional on-site/premise PBX:
          An illustration showing the differences between a traditional onsite PBX and a cloud VoIP phone system

          Cloud VoIP phone systems are very popular with small and medium-sized businesses for several reasons:

          • Mobility: Since the brain of a cloud VoIP phone system lives in the cloud, any reliable internet connection can be used to connect to the system, allowing users to work anywhere.
          • Managed: With a cloud VoIP phone system, the service provider is responsible for server maintenance and upgrades.  This means the need for specialized knowledge and IT resources are greatly reduced, while at the same time the system is kept up to date, and new features are automatically added by the provider.
          • Scalability: Users may be added or removed one by one as business needs change.
          • Accessible: The cost of implementation is typically low, since there is no equipment to purchase upfront.
          • Budgetable: Monthly fees are typically all-inclusive and packaged as a subscription service.  Also, the lack of on-site servers eliminates surprise costs from hardware failures.
          • Image: Remote workers maintain a professional image by using recognizable business telephone numbers rather than personal cellular numbers.
          • Security: By using company numbers instead of personal numbers, clients are less likely to follow a sales rep to another business if they change companies.
          • Continuity: Cloud VoIP phone systems are an important part of a business continuity plan, in that reputable providers maintain redundant servers and can forward phone calls to alternate destinations in the event of an emergency.
          Selecting a Business Phone System Supplier

          Before selecting a cloud VoIP phone system supplier, it’s important to know that there are a range of common implementation practices, with providers generally falling into one of two categories:

          • Self-service providers, who are often web-based, may simply ship your new phones to you with the expectation that you will be able to hook them up and figure out how to use them on your own. This approach might work if you have your own IT staff, but phone system administration and expertise is commonly a low priority for busy IT departments. One must also consider what happens to the knowledge of your phone system should your internal IT staff experience turnover, or if you move to a different outsourced IT partner.
          • Full-service providers, with a location in your area, may offer a turn-key system that is thoughtfully planned out by project managers and professionally installed by certified technicians. They’ll ensure that your Local Area Network (LAN) and Wide Area Network (WAN) are ready for a successful deployment of the solution, and are a resource for your IT staff or partner (if you have one) in this highly-specialized work.

          The level of support you can expect after the installation is typically in line with the level of support you receive during the installation, so be sure to ask lots of questions during your discovery process regarding how the provider’s implementation process works, and what sort of support the provider will offer afterwards.

          At POPP, we offer a cloud VoIP phone system locally-hosted on the Microsoft Metaswitch® we own and operate. For more information on how this system can lower your business communications costs while increasing productivity, contact us using the form below or give us a call at 763-797-7900!

            What’s in your Internet pipe ?

            A POPP Managed Ethernet Switch distributes internet bandwidth to computers and IP Phones on a Cloud PBX in an Edina, MN business
            A POPP Managed Ethernet Switch distributes internet bandwidth to computers and IP Phones on a Cloud PBX in an Edina, MN business

            What's in Your Internet Pipe?

            Have you ever wondered how much internet bandwidth your business actually uses on a typical day? Of course, it depends greatly on the sort of business activities (and non-business activities) that your employees do while in the office. It may help to imagine your internet connection as a pipe, and the bandwidth of your connection determines how large the pipe is. Each online activity happening in the office fills the pipe in an amount equal to how much bandwidth that particular activity consumes.

            You may be surprised to see that basic office tasks, such as sending and receiving emails and working in cloud-based applications or databases (i.e., Salesforce & Microsoft Office 365, etc.), are what we call “transactional” tasks and really don’t require much bandwidth at all. The more bandwidth-intensive activities include the constant movement, or “streaming”, of high-quality video, screen sharing applications like GoToMeeting, as well as large file uploads and downloads.

            An internet pipe illustration to describe how internet bandwidth works

            It’s easy to see from advertisements that most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are engaged in a race to the top to offer the highest amount of bandwidth possible. What isn’t so clear though is that the cloud-based businesses that use the internet to provide their services are actually in a race to the bottom, to use the least bandwidth. By using as little bandwidth as possible, their services are faster and more reliable on lower bandwidth connections, and appeal to customers who are using their services and often multitasking with others while at the office, at home, or on a mobile device.

            It probably goes without saying that, as bandwidth increases, so too does the price of the connection. Is your business paying for too much bandwidth, or for bandwidth that isn’t needed for revenue-generating activities? With one of our internet firewall gateway appliances, you’ll have complete control over what sort of data may come and go over your business internet connection, in order to provide security and maximize your bandwidth investment’s ROI.

            For more information on how we can help you to rightsize your internet bandwidth, call us today at 763-797-7900 or use the form below to be connected with a POPP representative. Thank you!